The BBC’s Money Programme looks at tobacco smuggling: ASH asks – who is behind the mafia connection?

Wednesday 14 February 2001


14February 2001: immediate


Tobacco smuggling: Who is behind the mafiaconnection?


Inadvance of tonight’s Money Programme about tobacco smuggling, ASH said thatquestions needed to be asked about the involvement of the UK tobacco companiesin this activity.


Whilst it isexpected that the programme will point to Mafia involvement in tobaccosmuggling, the important unanswered question is ‘How do the cigarettes reach the Mafia in the first place’? ASH drew attention to the role of the tobacco companies in supplying billionsof cigarettes to countries where there is no market for them – and where themost obvious purpose is to ensure the cigarettes reach the large scaleorganised crime syndicates now flooding Britain with black market cigarettes.<astyle=’mso-footnote-id:ftn1′ href=”″ name=”_ftnref1″ title=””><spanclass=msofootnotereference>[1]


ASH’sinvestigation [2]has shownthat:

<spanstyle=”mso-spacerun: yes”=””>

  • The volumes involved represent a substantial share of the companies’ export volumes, and the unavoidable conclusion is that these companies know that their wholesale exports are destined for the UK’s contraband market and are complicit in the trade. This is consistent with the business model revealed in the internal documents of the British multi-national British American Tobacco, which now faces racketeering action in the United States over cigarette smuggling in Colombia. The Department of Trade & Industry is also investigating BAT for its role in tobacco smuggling.[3]


  • HM Customs and Excise is either unable or unwilling to address the problem at source: namely by tackling the export of the equivalent of an estimated 2,000 freight containers of British-made cigarettes to phantom markets, which have the direct effect of supplying smugglers. The approach of HM Customs has been likened to an attempt to stop water flowing from a showerhead by blocking the holes rather than switching off the tap. HM Customs believes it is powerless to tackle such exports—we believe it should re-assess its existing powers or seek new powers.


Clive Bates,Director of ASH said:  “The only way to deal with cigarette smugglingis to stop the tobacco companies exporting hundreds of container loads toplaces where the most obvious purpose is to supply the smugglingMafia through intermediaries.   If Imperial Tobacco was heavilyfined for every pack of Regal cigarettes exported from their Nottinghamfactory and seized as contraband re-entering the UK, the large scale illegaltrade would soon dry up.”

<spanstyle=”mso-spacerun: yes”=””>

Bates added:”We are disturbed that some senior people in Customsappear supine and comatose before convincing evidence that the Britishtobacco companies are facilitating large scale smuggling either through activemanagement or wilful negligence. Unless Customs starts to tackle theproblem at source they will never put the lid on the organised crimesyndicates behind the UK’s smuggling epidemic.”


<spanstyle=”mso-spacerun: yes”=””>

Contacts:<spanstyle=”mso-spacerun: yes”=””>  Amanda Sandford, ASH 020 7739 5902<spanstyle=”mso-spacerun: yes”=””> 

CliveBates, ASH, 020 7739 5902 (office) 077 6879 1237 (mobile)

[1]<spanlang=en-us style=”font-size:9.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Arial”> ASH evidence to the Treasury Select Committee.October 2000

<ahref=”http:”” pa=”” cm199900=”” cmselect=”” cmtreasy=”” 953=”” 953ap07.htm”=””>

<spanstyle=’mso-special-character:footnote’>[2]<spanlang=en-us style=”font-size:9.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Arial”>For further details of this investigation visit: <ahref=”http:”” ?smuggling”=””>

<spanstyle=’mso-special-character:footnote’>[3]<spanlang=en-us style=”font-size:9.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Arial”>Department of Trade & Industry Press Release, 30 October 2000 <ahref=”http:”” coi=”” coipress.nsf=”” 2b45e1e3ffe090ac802567350059d840=”” e0a7db571a31d70c80256988005658bc?opendocument”=””>